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Phoenix – a Variable Buoyancy Airship

Control system design for a novel, experimental Airship

Stirling Dynamics was part of a consortium to design, build and test a novel variable buoyancy airship called the Phoenix. As part of its novel concept, the Phoenix airship is helium-filled but, unlike conventional aircraft, derives its propulsion from a variable buoyancy system, allowing it to move through the air “like a porpoise through water”. This type of propulsion system had not previously been demonstrated on an aircraft.

Funded by Innovate-UK and approved by the Aerospace Technology Institute, the Phoenix project brought together a highly skilled team of industrial partners, Manufacturing Catapults and Academia. Stirling Dynamics became involved in the three-year project due to the company’s experience in the development of steering and diving control algorithms for underwater vehicles, and its wealth of knowledge and experience in aerospace systems. Stirling Dynamics was responsible for designing the Flight Control Laws and led the development of the Flight Control System in partnership with the MTC (Manufacturing Technology Centre).

On the 21st of March 2019, the Phoenix prototype airship was flown successfully and repeatedly during indoor flight trials, under the command of a fully autonomous flight control system. The Phoenix made five transitions from heavier than air to lighter than air in each flight.

In 2020 the Phoenix project was recognised by the Royal Aeronautical Society, in their annual Honours, Medals and Awards, and awarded the Team Bronze Medal.  The Society’s Awards Programme recognises and celebrates individuals and teams who have made an exceptional contribution to aerospace, whether it is for an outstanding achievement, a major technical innovation, exceptional leadership, or for work that will further advance aerospace.